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A CurtainUp Review
A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant
Not too long ago, Scientology had the wherewithal to effectively silence any opposition, including its former members. Inasmuch as the Church was known for its real estate holdings -- its adventures in litigation — against members of the press, the entertainment community, and anyone taking their trademarks in vain which have been legion. TimeWarner spent in excess of $10M in legal costs in the early '90s. Even though TW succeeded in defending its right to publish, Scientology demonstrated that it would brook no quarter, no matter the size of the party, behemoth or miniscule. The Internet changed all of that, making available much of the Church's secrets for the first time, including its dirty tricks tactics in dealing with dissent.
While it longer practices a scorched earth policy, it still wields a banner of fear. A year ago I was commissioned to write an expose for a highly acclaimed online periodical. At the eleventh hour its lawyers had them withdraw my piece — anxious that Scientology could bankrupt the independently owned magazine without so much as blinking. Fortunately for us, satire seems to be a more protected as a form of speech than journalism.
Back in 2003 the avant garde theater group Les Freres Corbusier used media jujitsu to thwart the Church of Scientology after being threatened by a lawsuit by the Rev. John Carmichael, the Church's New York president. "Unauthorized" was added to the piece's title not merely for effect but to cushion the company against impending litigation. The show's revival could not be more timely. Shunted aside this year is the War Against Xmas. Courtesy of above-the-fold cauterwauling by Scientology stalwart Tom Cruise, the teachings of the Lord Xenu have become a punchline.
The beauty of Les Freres Corbusier's Scientology Pageant lies in its simplicity of both focus and scope. At once it is a parody of the typical Christmas pageant and a subversive dig at the megalomania of Scientology's charismatic founder. Alex Timbers is to be commended for his deft direction of his adolescent cast (ranging in age from 8 to 13). My performance included the felt experience of the cast's parents cheering for their kids not for any furtive readings they gave against Hubbard, but for their sheer joy.
Theatergoers will be able to process the show on several levels. For the uninitiated, it is an education on Hubbard and his self-invention from million-selling science fiction writer to the self-styled creator of Dianetics. The centerpiece of the show — which at just over one hour is perfectly pitched in scale — is Hubbard's IRS trial. The government decided that Scientology was not in fact a religion (back in the '50's he first asked the American Psychiatric Association for accreditation; when this was refused he lambasted psychiatry and termed his teachings a philosophy) and, consequently, its finding that the Church doesn't merit its tax-exempt status. As someone who found this particular chapter in Hubbard's biography to be fascinating I was disappointed with its coquettish treatment, complete with testimony from Mssrs. Travolta, Cruise, and even Kristie Alley. That said, I could understand how it was beyond the purview of the piece to delve with complexity.
Unauthorized is a fleeting glimpse into the bizarro world of Scientology. Like Les Freres' recent productions, Hell House and Boozy, it is rigorously informed and performed without condescension. Children are the perfect players for this type of production. They aren't in on the hipster joke, and as such, mirror the kinds of empty vessels that Scientology has bent to its ends. Having interviewed a handful of "survivors" (folks who left the Church after thirty years and while members were, among other things, prevented from taking medicine to prevent epileptic seizures), I'm laughing on the outside, but stricken within. A dramatic arc on this season's Nip/Tuck is hardly sufficient to convey the cultish edicts of Scientology.
For those whose appetite has been piqued by the play I recommend Prof. Dave Touretsky's homepage at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/ ? The cognitive scientist's Web site is a clearinghouse on Scientology.
Reviews of other Les Freres Corbusier Productions Hell House
Boozy: The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, more importantly, Robert Moses
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide